SAUGUS — In a high-intensity game that had a tournament feel from start to finish, the Swampscott boys hockey team scored with just 49 seconds remaining to earn a 3-2 victory over Northeastern Conference foe Saugus at Kasabuski Arena Wednesday night. The game was critical for both teams, as the win punched Swampscott’s tournament ticket and the loss knocked Saugus from postseason contention.
“This one was huge,” said Swampscott coach Gino Faia. “It was a desperation game for both teams and it really had a tournament atmosphere all night. The guys played their tails off tonight and I couldn’t be prouder of them. We were down (second-leading scorer) Drew Olivieri tonight and guys stepped up to make plays, and I couldn’t have asked for more.”
Swampscott was powered by assistant captain Conor Donovan, who had two goals and one assist.
“Conor might be a small guy, but he plays like a beast out there,” Faia said. “He’s a pitbull out there and he made all the little plays we needed him to tonight in addition to his scoring.”
Chris Barnes also scored a goal for the Big Blue, while captain Zach Elwell and Tyler Seller each had one assist.
Faia also pointed out the play of goalie Victor Kratik, who came up with a number of crucial saves down the stretch.
“Victor’s been solid for us all season, and coming in he knew this would be a pressure game,” Faia said. “We needed him to come up big tonight, and he did.”
For Saugus, Nick Aiken and Lorenzo Keegan each scored one goal while captain Joe Cross, captain CJ Graffeo and assistant captain Ronnie Paolo each had one assist.
The game was back-and-forth from the very start as the two teams traded hits and possessions for the entire first period. Neither team could find the back of the net until the very end of the period, when Aiken won a battle in front of the Swampscott net to knock home the first goal of the game with one second left. Swampscott argued that the buzzer sounded before the goal, but after a short conference the referees awarded Saugus the goal and it was 1-0 Sachems after one period.
But the tables turned in the second period. It started with just under 12 minutes to go, when Swampscott was awarded a 5-on-3 for a full two minutes after a pair of Saugus penalties. It didn’t take long for the Big Blue to capitalize, as Seller sent a perfect cross-ice pass to Donovan for a one-timer goal to tie the score at 1-1. After the ensuing penalty expired, Swampscott was called for a penalty of its own and Saugus had a chance to respond. But Donovan wasn’t having any of it, and with just under eight minutes to go he scored a shorthanded goal. This time, Elwell set him up on with a pass into the opposing zone and Donovan worked around Saugus goalie Jack Devereaux to make it 2-1 Big Blue.
That score carried into the third period, but Saugus wasn’t quite done making noise. With 7:18 to go, Paolo sent a pass over to Keegan, who skated into the offensive zone and ripped a wrist shot past Kratik to tie the score at 2-2. Desperate for at least a tie to keep its tournament hopes alive, Saugus played as hard as it could for the final seven minutes. But with 49 seconds left, Barnes scored on a shot from the blue line to put Swampscott up 3-2. After holding off a frantic final attempt from Saugus, the Big Blue skated away with the win.
Saugus (6-8-5) will close out its season next Wednesday (6) when it hosts Winthrop.
Swampscott (8-6-3) is now focused on sharpening things up in its final two games before the tournament begins. That starts with another NEC game, this one against Marblehead Saturday (1) at Rockett Arena.
“Marblehead is a top team in Division 2 and then we close with another top Division 3 team in Dracut, so this will be a good way to prepare ourselves for the tournament,” Faia said. “We knew at the start of the year that the end of our schedule would be tough, so now we’re just trying to take advantage of it and prepare for the tournament.”